September 2011, I started a journey. A journey that took me the better part of the start of the year 2011 planning, I was excited as anyone else to be part of the 15 Eco- Warriors who would make a trip to the jungles of Borneo, West Kalimantan in Indonesia to live with the local people of the Dayak community, to learn and share their stories, save the endangered Orangutans, create a new Ecosystem and best of all work side by side with acclaimed Scientist Dr. Willie Smits or Willie as he would love us to call him.
The Project’s name is DeforestAction and is sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning, Taking It Global, and National Geographic amongst other Big Pictures Visionaries. 3D Movie Documentary Directed by Cathy Henkel of Virgo Productions Australia will also be filmed simultaneously and will focus on the journey of the ECO WARRIORS on how they will work together with the Local people to bring change in the Islands of Borneo.
My Journey to Borneo
A week before my journey, something terrible happens, the sudden death of my Father and it deeply hurts me, being part of the project is exactly what my Dad wanted for me, I chose to go ahead with the mission to Borneo and am happy with the support of my family and the DeforestACTION Team.
I arrive on Monday morning in Sintang at the Kobus after a 12 hours bus ride from the Airport of Pontianak, here am totally left out of energy as earlier on I had an 18hrs flight from Nairobi to Jakarta with a stopover in Doha. Amazing everybody on board the project awaits me at the gate of Kobus house, Cameras rolling and there the man of the moment Dr. Willie Smits appears and hugs me, we meet face to face for the first time, then all over the Eco Warriors do the same, I try to tell them by their names as I had met them online.
Just as I settle, EW Steve Partriarco informs me that in 10 minutes we are going for an 8hrs speedboat drive to upriver Melawai where we will be visiting some remote villages for 4 days, I grab my backpack and off we go to the boats for a ride, never before had I ridden a speedboat but here seemed no exception, Project Managers Richard and Tony group us so that we can start our journey and Producer Mark and EW Kodi Twiner become my team for the boat ride! Gladly Mark White offers a Shoulder for me to lean on noticing how exhausted I have been from the previous trips.
The Boat Trip Up River Melawi
The trip was a bumpy one, and could not sleep at all and it was interesting to see how the boat drivers were so at ease with their riding, What we see upriver on the boats its horrific, on the shores are illegally logged trees waiting transport, so many of illegal gold mines operated along the river and we learn from Dr. Willie Smits that in almost each gold mine we see, it pumps over a liter per day of Mercury directly into the river eco system –heartbreaking! This causes heavy pollution on the water in the river by introducing heavy metals which are unfit for human consumption, destroying the fish breeding cycles and asking the boat driver through a translator he says that the water is even unfit for swimming or bathing!
How could a river that is meant to be a source of livelihood to people is their source of death, misfortunes and dangerous illness? What’s the point of having a river that you can’t even bathe in let alone water for irrigation or cooking! These are the questions that linger in my mind and couldn’t imagine why these people still go on doing the mining. We see half naked local people operating the mines and we are told that the life expectancy of individuals who operate them is average 40 yrs and sometimes there are Cancer illness reports, miscarriages in women and impotence in men is common all these being the side effects of operating the Gold Mines.
We make a stop to our first village Kemangai, the villagers welcomed us in a very friendly way and as a common feature what I should call as tradition is that they offered a sacrifice and had made a gate made of Bamboo sticks and Palm leaves before we enter the village, where they would sing, dance and ask Willie to kill a pig which does not go well with some of the EW’s but it has to be done, then they offer us Tuak (Palm Juice) to drink as a sign of welcoming us.
Soon when we made ourselves comfortable, they started pouring out their hearts what the Oil Palm Companies were doing to them, grabbing their lands or forcing them to sale their lands and one by one the villagers faces changed from excitement to hopeless angry faces, this was incomprehensible how investors cause so much harm than good to people, we agreed to listen to their stories and tell the world. Willie told them about Sugar Palm proposal that would have them keep their lands and offer them a sustainable economy and that stirred some life in their faces.
It was time to leave the village and head off before it was dark to the next village.
Back to the boats, we talk about the village but that was the beginning of the many heartbreaking stories we would be hearing in the next few weeks.
Going to one of the villages upriver Ambalau we get to the village of Duan and some of the villagers waiting for us, after a welcoming ceremony, the High Priest of the village takes us on tour on his land and there he shows the ancestral graves which had some bare bones, the people have been living in the land for over 100 years and now it is under threat of being taken away from them by the Palm Oil Companies, the POC have already sent surveyors who have marked the trees in ink establishing their territories and word around is that in a Months’ time Bulldozers will start clearing the lands. Time is crucial for the village to survive and he beseeches us to tell the world that ‘they will fight for their forests till their last drop of blood’ in an emotionless face he faces the camera and speaks those words in the Dayak language.
EW Farhani Empel breaks into tears, perhaps the words bring a lot meaning in Indonesian language, another man from the village adds that a few villagers have been bribed by the POC to help them out with the surveying and since then they hid themselves away from the village.
We move to the next village Tempe here we meet Father (Pastor) of the Parish and he explains to us that the people have made a stand not to give
away their lands to anybody and a meeting is quickly convened at the local Catholic Church.
After spending a few days in the village, early in the morning we prepare to start our journey back home (Sintang – Kobus House) the villagers gather altogether to bid us goodbye and here is when emotions struck, the Village Head and the Head of Traditions tell us how much happy they are to see us and for once believe that they will be able to fight the POC and here they say that they believe ‘WE ECO WARRIORS ARE ANGELS’ and in saying this tears roll down his cheeks as he explains how he thinks that their ‘gods’ have answered their prayers by sending us.
After the emotional goodbye speech we start to trek down the river the villagers line up and all I can hear is ‘Sampa Jumpa’ Bahasa for ‘see you later’ as they line up to bid us bye for the last time. Village heads, men, women and children all gather up and wave goodbye with their beautiful smiles and we feel so bad that we have to leave.
We are all back to the boat, and as we head back to Sintang, we see the illegal logged trees less than the legally allowed 30 CM Diameter by the river and the many of the Gold Mines and here we are able to relate to the stories from the village of how the people have been cheated and forced to give up their lands. It all makes sense and it feels terrible to ride past the sceneries.
Back ‘Home’ –Kobus, Sintang
Finally we get back to Sintang, it feels like home what a day with tired feet we only have one thing to do, get under our nets for some sleep. The next day we are having a free day to relax and recollect on all the things that we have seen and heard from upriver. A couple of EW’s call their ‘English Buddies’ and head to town for some shopping and Internet services in the cyber cafes. Am reminded by Cathy that there is a camera interview that I did not take on arrival so it has been set up. I head for the few minutes on the interview and then got back to the Kobus House for some relaxation nap.
In the evening, there is a surprise to all of us. Sean Tiernery from Microsoft Canada arrives to check out on the project. It is so cool having him around and especially for me to meet him as we had traded many emails before. His main purpose of coming is to set up a Webinar with children from all around the world so that we can share with them the stories we have heard and things that we have seen about deforestation.
We welcome Sean into the pack, and in the evening we have a formal introduction with everyone in the team, Richard and Tony lay up a plan that tomorrow we will head to Tembak village for a day.
A Visit to Tempanuk, Tembak
Early in the morning we get our backpacks ready for Tembak, located in the Tempunak region it’s a 2hrs bus ride from Sintang. We get to Tembak by midday and huge crowd of the villagers is waiting to welcome us. It is all song and dance going on and the traditional artificial gate is set up for us and behind it all the villagers young and old, men and women are all lined up for us to greet once we enter the gate.
One thing that we noticed, is a big banner that says ‘WEE WELCOME ECONOMIC WARRIORS’ I think this statement is what made us fall in love with the village, first we joke about it but coming to think about it there is no village that we visited went as far as putting up a banner for us. Though with a different meaning we just had to give them the credit for trying.
A welcoming ceremony is quickly performed and we are handshaking each of the villagers, the excitement is high, innocent smiles and anxiety of the villagers can be seen in their faces. For most of them they have never seen people of different skin colors like us and it was worth for them following us around just to have a close up look at us. We spot a white boy amongst the crowd and get to learn later on that he is Tim- a Dutch University student who is doing some forest mapping in the village.
The village heads invite us to a meeting where we are introduced to the village, and they start opening up telling us the threats of losing their lands that they are going through. Dr. Willie talks to them about the Sugar Palm alternatives and once again a ray of hope is seen in their faces knowing that they could still keep their land and benefit from it. We also talk to the villagers about conservation projects with the local people.
We are later on released from the meeting and head to the Longhouse where we will be spending the night, the interaction with the locals here is intense, their children are getting so fond of us. In the evening we are told to go for a party that the villagers had organized for us and it is compulsory that guests to sing and dance in the party. We enjoy the party, singing and dancing with the locals until late into the night. EW Ben comes with idea of going for a snake hunt in the night, Tim organizes some locals who know the forests and off we go with EW’s Paul, Steve, and Fabrice, with our headlights we get into the forests.
It was fun making some sounds in the jungle, sometimes we could switch off our lights and silence ourselves and connect with the forest. We are now tired and it’s getting late in the middle of the night when we decide, that we now must head back to the village and have some sleep.
The next day is on a Sunday morning, we decide to be part of the congregation at the Catholic Church Mass and we are also informed that the Church has a project to build a new Church and we quickly contribute amongst ourselves and then head off to the Church for the service. Dr. Willie also gets a chance to talk to the Congregation about our mission and the Church assures its support to DeforestAction and after the service we take a group photo with the congregation. The love in the air with the locals is amazing, and everywhere we go there’s a bunch of kids always with us. We get back for lunch and Dr. Willie takes us to forest walk in the Virgin Forests that are facing a threat of being destroyed by the POC, the people still reiterate the fact to us that they won’t let anyone take their land. In a few hours we are back in the village for our lunch.
We are informed of a baby Orangutan that is in the village, which is being kept in deplorable conditions and first we agree Dr. Willie to go to the owners and initiate the rescue mission. The owners after having a chat with Dr. Willie of course being informed on the implications to the environment by keeping the Orangutan and health risks posed to the people around. They willingly agree to give away the Orangutan and we promise that it would be taken good care of at Sintang. The baby Orangutan is Jojo, seeing these different people from all over the world that she has never seen. Amazingly, Dr. Willie telepathically manages to calm her down and she refused to be touched by anyone except him. Now we have one more guest in our entourage back to Sintang.
After all of us greet Jojo we pack our bags on our way back to Kobus, Sintang. Saying goodbye to this village was the hardest, we had merely spent 24hrs with them but the bond with them was so strong. Both parents and children could not hold back tears as we said goodbye. We hugged and cried together and this was one of the beautiful things about this village, pure genuine love and we were totally moved by the villagers and even when we got to the top of the 4WD trucks we waved goodbye and they still got into their motorbikes and rode with us for about 2kms with tears on their eyes and waving goodbye.
After hours, we arrive at Kobus, Sintang and what was on our mind was the village, how much they appreciated us. Something also happens here. It’s Jojo after clinging to Dr. Willie for the few hours during the bus ride she totally refuses to let go of him and this means that they both have to spend time together at the cage. Darkness is falling, and Jojo doesn’t want to let go of Dr. Willie and now he has to spend the night in the cage with her. One of the many sacrifices he has offered in the journey of rescuing Orangutans.
The Webinar and Col. Firly Visit at Kobus, Sintang
The following morning, we get to the cage and it’s really moving to have seen Dr. Willie spent a night in the cage with Jojo. Sean and Mark White are now setting up the cage for a Webinar with thousands of school Kids from all over the world, EW’s Paul and Farhani are prepped by Cathy on the Webinar and everything seems to be moving on well until Dr. Willie finishes talking on his phone and he says ‘Guys, surprise Colonel Firly Head of Police is joining us for the Webinar’ one of the many successes to achieve –having the Police Force onboard in DeforestACTION Project in order to stop illegal animal trade.
This was good news and we all got dressed up and went to the cage and wait for the Colonel, minutes away he arrives with his team. We greet each other and Dr. Willie introduces each of us. We have a small talk to him and raise a few questions to him concerning animal trade in the region and he promised his unwavering commitment to stop deforestation and animal trade and just to express his sincerity he told us how he had to rescue an animal from his own Force, i.e. a Policeman was illegally keeping an
Orangutan and had to confiscate it from him. This was one of the many things that he has outlined in his mission to stop animal trade and in fact he was in the process of establishing Police Posts at a port downriver which is a notorious route for animal trading.
Meanwhile, Sean and Mark are done with the set up, we are now live and online and on the other side is TIG’s Michael Furdyk moderating the Webinar. EW Paul starts us off and Farhani joins in as students excitedly ask questions, they tell us how proud they are that we are out here and making a difference. Soon after a Q&A session Dr. Willie steps in with Colonel Firly and the Colonel reiterates his commitment to help us in the project wherever he can and most of all stop illegal animal trade after which there’s excitement when Jojo comes in the screen and in the background playing with branches now seemingly relaxed and playful.
After the Webinar, we take pictures with the Colonel and his team. And him being a friendly person he asks us whether we can have dinner with him the following night and the answer was a big YES. In the afternoon we get ready to go to a nearby school where the Principal had organized an hour, 30 minutes will be in the class and the other 30 minutes will be playing out in the field with the students. Our English students come to the Kobus House, and pick us with the motorbikes and we send the streets in frenzy as they looked at us. In a few minutes we get at the school and the feeling is ecstatic, we are quickly ushered into the classrooms each class per EW with an English student buddy as our translators. My English Buddy is called Lenny and we get into a Music class and our objectives in the class is to tell them who we are, where we are from, talk about environment and our cultures.
The School Visit
The class is full and with smiley faces, most students have never seen an African before, I took time telling them about Kenya and related it to US President Barack Obama father being Kenyan, and him being raised in Indonesia. I could see the excitement in the faces and we have an interactive session and before we know it the school PA system says we have 10 minutes in the classroom. I thought, this being a Music class, I could leave them with a Kenyan song, so I taught the class ‘Jambo Kenya ‘and they loved the part ‘Hakuna Matata’ and the students took out their flutes and played the song such that other classes came to have a look what kind of a song it was. Time was up and we had to go the fields to play me, Tai Chi, Liza, Ben joined the Volleyball pitch and played against the students and luckily we had a pack of students cheering us.
That was some real action, then we headed at the Staffrooms for some snacks, took pictures with the students and the Principal gave out some speech thanking us for showing up at the school. We get back to the motorbikes and head to Kobus House, and that evening Neil Jackson from Microsoft Singapore arrived in Kobus and it was a pleasure to meet him. That evening Sean introduced us to Neil and then we had a lecture from Dr. Willie about how Sugar Palm can create a sustainable community.
Dinner with Col. Firly
In the evening, we get ready for the dinner that we promised to join Colonel Firly, few minutes to 7 P.M. he sends a convoy of Police cars to pick us up at the Kobus house, feels nice to be riding those Police Cars and as soon as we arrive to the hotel people must have wondered where the Col. guests are from, seeing so many different nationals.
At the entrance of the Hotel, Col. Firly welcomes us and dinner is set. One of the nice experiences we had with the Col. and thereby cemented our friendship. It was all laughter and photo sessions and it was time to go and Dr. Willie on behalf of us expressed our heartfelt thanks and appreciated Col’ Firly gesture in inviting us for dinner.
Journey to Ensaid Panjang
The next day we start packing up for Ensaid Panjang the village where we will spend 10 days with the local Dayak people, to be with them, and live with them. Late in the morning, we get into the bus and start our journey on the way we spot sceneries of deforestation, freshly burnt land still with smoke and the sites are heartbreaking. On our way we go past an old, small building by the roadside and we see an old half naked man sitting in front of the shack.
We stop by, greet him and Dr. Willie introduces himself and us generally and we enquired whether we can have a moment with him. He had this nervous look on his face probably all his life he has never seen so many different foreigners and the Police escort that we had. But as he talked with our local translators and Dr. Willie about our mission he slowly begun to open up and he was more than willing to talk to us, his name was Pak Kabul.
He told us that around his home, there was no one as people had fled to the next village, as the POC came in and started taking away the people lands and threatening them with court lawsuits. He said that he will never move away and he always sits there in his home waiting for the POC to show up. He said he was ready to lose his life but not his land, later on we get to know that he owns rubber trees in his land and they are his only source of income.
He tells us how the POC cheat people that they will give them jobs, only to find out that they get workers from Java. We asked how much they have done or whom they had talked to about this problem, he talks of the many letters that they have written to the Government but no help seems to be on the way and he says recently the villagers went to the POC offices (a yard that had their offices, bulldozers, and equipments) then burnt down everything.
We asked whether he could show us the yard, which he gladly did and it was a very sad scene, the peoples’ anger, frustration and discontent towards the POC expressed in the ravaged inferno on the equipments, and after that 39 people were thrown in jail by the Police, this being an addition to the many stories like this.
We continue our journey, and finally we get to Ensaid Panjang where we would spend the next 10 days and as usual a ceremonial welcome is underway, drums are heard, dancers singing and we get to know from Dr. Willie that we can only enter the Longhouse for the first time through the far end, as we climb over the carved wooden stairs the villagers are all lined up inside the Longhouse for a handshake. A stone, egg, water and leaves are put on the floor and each of us has to step over them.
Living at the Longhouse, Ensaid Panjang
Our reception at the Longhouse is magnificent, we get to find the room where we will all be sleeping but we chose the other end of the corridors of the longhouse and we set up our sleeping mats and nets. The Longhouse is filled with a buzz and its all smiles and the little Bahasa we had known, but who cares when there is love.
We spend the first night of the longhouse and the next day we start exploring the longhouse, as usual the kids become our number one friends and it’s amazing how much we all try to communicate and understand each other. Later on, we meet Pak Sembai who is the Head of the Longhouse, and we are also informed that as traditions of the Longhouse that after dinner we all come together at the middle of the Longhouse and each of us will have to introduce ourselves in a 5 minutes cameo and they always prefer a presentation, mostly songs.
This we had known, as Dr. Willie had tipped us and we started practicing our 5 minutes introduction. That afternoon was all about the introduction, we practiced our individual introductions, then after dinner we had everyone out in the verandah and it all started. Dr. Willie led the group and also translated for us, one by one we went on with the introduction. It was a comical night, telling them about ourselves, where we are from and what we want to do, there were poems, dances, songs and each one of us had a unique introduction. I chose to sing the song Redemption Song by Bob Marley which really reflected the situation with the Dayak people. Am thankful for EW Yvette whom I sang the song with and it was really a night that was full of fun. We could see the smiles, the warmth of the people, and it was an awesome feeling.
After the introductions, it was time to give out the presents that we had brought for the children, we had books, English books, Art books, Pens, Pencil, colored pencils etc The next day we would spend the day with the kids teaching them English, drawing, etc and one particular EW stood out in schooling the kids and that was Yvette. I think she was exceptional, the kids loved her, she was so at ease with them and the way she customized her sign language with them it was incredible.
We played with the kids, went swimming with them, sat next to weaving mothers and did a couple of chores with the people. The experience was so breathtaking, seeing all these people living together, sharing almost everything and always so cool and welcoming.
Dr. Willie in Parliament
Early next morning, Dr. Willie leaves us and he is heading back to Sintang, where he was allocated a 2hrs lecture at the parliament. We are left going on with our Dayak way of living. During the day we go out with some local people to the rubber plantations where we help out in tapping the rubber, a new skill that I learnt in the Longhouse. In the evening, Dr. Willie arrives from Sintang and in much anticipation we ask how it went at the parliament. He says how he talked to the Parliamentarians and he was satisfied that most of them understood the concept of Sugar Palm except a few whom when he kept on talking they cut a figure of being disoriented, he revealed how questionably several POC had obtained so many land rights which was a major conflict between villagers.
Later on the few would call him a foreigner whom was dipping his noise in the wrong places, in contrast the fellow Parliamentarians rebuked them and assured Dr. Willie that they would support an investigation by Corruption Commission into the matter –one of our major goals achieved! And most were in support of Dr. Willie idea of Sugar Palms, Stopping Deforestation and illegal wild animal trade.
We were happy to hear of that and we knew strides are being made in the right direction; for once the authencity of the Land Rights of the POC will be investigated. Days went by as we immersed ourselves in the ways of the Dayak people, and every day was an opportunity to learn something new, a few treks in the swamp forests, going out in the sunny heat to plant rice in the swamps, the experiences were wanting and all these local people ready to show us new stuffs and on a cross-cultural interaction note we started playing Rummikub (Board Game) with Pak Sembai, how he got to learn the game, I can never tell. EW Yvette idea of bringing Board Games to Borneo and it worked magic!
The Standoff at Lansat Baru, Lansat Lama and Sibau Villages
Life was good until one evening when a group of people came to the Longhouse to seek audience with Dr. Willie, asking us to come and see for ourselves firsthand a standoff the following day between the local villagers of Lansat Baru, Lansat Lama and Sibau villagers against the POC. From their explanation, it seemed an intense matter and here we had to think real fast what needed to be done. They were very open, and they
said come and show it to the world what the POC are doing to us and tomorrow there will be a huge demonstration by the villagers who said they will never allow the POC to take their land and that they will confiscate Palm Oil Equipment and block their access road to the forests.
We have a short meeting, and it is decided for security reasons that not all EW’s will be go to the standoff area, rather EW Emily Hunter, Paul Daley, and Chai Chin will accompany Dr. Willie, Cathy and Ezther (Camera Crew). The decision seemed fair and early in the morning they leave for Lansat Baru and that was the most tensed day of our stay in Ensaid Panjang. They had departed at 5:30 a.m. in the morning and promised latest midday they would be back, so we sat in the The day went by with our normal activities at the Longhouse till around 10.00 a.m. when we started to ask ourselves why the team was not back yet, then we waited longer up to midday and here anxiety started to creep in slowly, all our activities in the Longhouse came to a stop. We could not reach them over the mobile phones as there was no network coverage and following them was not an option Pak Sembai Head of the Longhouse would agree. It was too risky. Hardly could any of us have our lunch meals as all these possibilities of something bad at the standoff may have happened.
It was now 3.00 p.m. and they had not shown yet, we were tired of waiting but we couldn’t do anything and only hoped that everything will be alright. At around 7.00 a.m. we see the team arriving at the Longhouse in their truck, this was a massive relief for all of us it was good to see everyone back in one piece. After dinner, we had a meeting and Dr. Willie, Cathy, EW’s Paul, Emily and Chai chin narrated all what happened at the standoff. They told us how the locals turned up with machetes and all kinds of weapons; they did a ceremonial ritual on the land and swore to fight to death against anyone who would want to take away their land. They stayed and waited for the POC the whole day but they did not show up and they expected that someone had tipped them off about the standoff. Present in the villagers was an individual who had a chopped hand, and behind the neck and this was done by a group of young men sent by the POC. For more stories about the standoff EW’s Paul, Emily, and Chai chin have blogs that give details of the Standoff.
As we talked, news come in from a villager about the standoff that the POC on realizing today that the villagers had staged a demonstration, they make an arrangement (bribe) with the police and plan to send them to the villages to kick out the demonstrators. This was a common practice in the past that the police would be send to the villagers and beat them up and even arrests them. There’s now only one thing that could be done, to contact Colonel Firly, the Chief Police about the impending action by his Police Officers. But the problem is, it is now very late at night and in Ensaid Panjang at the Longhouse there is no network coverage. This creates a lot of tension, emotions run high on everyone and we all understood the significance of Colonel Firly intervention on the matter before the police are arrive at the village.
As much as Dr. Willie tried to reach the Col. Firly it was all in vain, late in the night he even travelled a few Kilometers away from the Longhouse but he couldn’t get the reception. Then we just had to sleep the night and very early in the morning Dr. Willie would go back to Sintang and talk to Col. Firly after first making a call to him and brief him on the matter. Also, the team that had been at the standoff i.e. EW’s Emily and Chai Chin are putting up articles about the standoff and pictures by EW Paul so that they are send to the local media and put up in the internet so that the world can know what happened yesterday. They all head to Sintang meanwhile we are informed that on Monday, a day away there will be a Longhouse party that is held every 50 yrs and we are lucky that this remarkable event is happening when we are still in the Longhouse.
Preparations are ongoing, the women are pounding rice into flour, there’s much cooking going on the rooms and a party mood seems to settle. I could see some EW’s seemingly interested with the pounding and EW Liza joins one of the women in doing so. EW Mark is working on his song about our 20 Days in Borneo in which he asks the EW’s to be part of the video, so we start the MTV (Making The Video), we do a couple of shots and also involve the local people in the video. The children are everywhere with us and they are glad to be part of the music video.
The day is gone, and its evening. The group that left to Sintang arrives in the Longhouse and quickly we have a debrief and our first question was to Dr. Willie, did you talk to Colonel Firly? The answer was yes. He informed him of the events that happened yesterday and Colonel said that he was not ready to have his force be manipulated by the POC and he would not agree to send any Police officers to beat up the villagers. We were grateful to hear that from the Colonel and once again prove his commitment to stop deforestation. Dr. Willie also informs us that Jojo is doing well and had taken some medications and was completely relaxed and feeling at home. EW’s Chai Chin and Emily reported that they had send their articles to various media and had put them up also online for the world to know what is happening.
The Longhouse Party and Goodbye
Early the next day, it was all preparations for the Longhouse Party, the local people all got dressed up and there was excitement everywhere soon guests from other villagers started to stream in. The ceremony started and statutes and branches of the trees were laid in the middle of the Longhouse. Pigs and Chicken were slaughtered and dragged in the Longhouse from one end to the other then the blood was wiped. A lot of traditional rituals went on until it was time to plant the statues of the forefathers at both the entrance and exit of the Longhouse. The rules and punishment were read out aloud to anyone who will get caught abusing the statues. After that we had our meals and it was just merry! Drinking, eating and dancing.
This was our last night at the Longhouse, and sleep was not an option. We sat round, told jokes, ate, drank and danced all night long together with the locals. We went to sleep when it was nearly dawn and in a matter of few hours we were all awake. Time to pack our things and leave the Longhouse. Reality struck us, that it was time to say goodbye to the Longhouse. How could we start walking away from people that we spent 10 precious days in their home? We ate, slept, and lived with them and it was time to say goodbye. I still remember how we collected the garbage around the Longhouse with EW’s Ben, Yvette, Kodi, I and the kids for once they learnt the importance of keeping the compound clean. Production Crew Ben and EW Anne-Sophie built simple garbage collection bins, it was fantastic! What about those bulldozers few Kilometers away from the Longhouse, what is the future of those so lovely kids, will they have a hope to live for? Those were the questions that lingered on our minds when we said goodbye but we are glad that we have put a story out there, now the world is aware of the unfair practices of the POC, the Parliament knows the suffering of the Dayaks and we hope all these will derail the activities of the POC.
We have our last pictures with the locals, and get into our trucks and it was all Sampa Jumpa to be heard everywhere. We could not hold our tears but we had to move on to Sintang.
Chef Andre Joins Us in the Jungle
As we start our journey back to Sintang, news come in of the arrest of Pak Yunonso by the police, he was the head of the group that staged the demonstration at the village of Lansat Baru a day earlier. Dr. Willie, Fa and Ezther head to the police station to intervene while the rest of the group we continue our way back to Sintang, we make a stop at a Catholic Church Hostel Retreat, at the foot of Bukit Kelam. It is beautiful with very big statues of the Lord Jesus Christ all over the compound, and we are told tonight we will be spending the night there. It was much of a relief; you could see the joy in our eyes, after spending so many days both at the villages, Kobus House and the Longhouse in Ensaid Panjang sleeping on the wooden floors tonight we will be lying in beds!! And the toilets had showers, WC’s this was more than a treat!
After we have lunch, we have a new guest and it is none other than Chef Andre Chiang from Singapore. A renowned Celebrity Chef in Eurasia! He joins us for a little expedition in the forests, am glad to be his assistant in collecting food recipes in the jungle. It seems we are in this big Natural Forest Supermarket. Chef Andre mission is to look at the jungle food recipes, including an Orangutan salad, and in a combination of many wild leaves, mushrooms he gets enough just to introduce in his recipes.
We get back to the Hostel, and in the evening there is a party prepared for us, it is song and dance as usual till late in the night. The next day we are on our way back to Sintang.
We pass by the Museum and as we moved around we saw pictures of many places and villages that we have been to, the Melawi River and even the Longhouse in Ensaid Panjang. We could tell the places and even the people in the pictures and this was amazing! We were proud to point out that we have been there and lived with them.
We get to the Kobus House, Sintang and we have the last meeting with the representatives of the Dayak people. We do an evaluation of our trips to the upriver and the villagers and make a plan of action that all of us we will be working on before we come back next year. The representatives also express their heartfelt thanks to our arrival in Sintang and the tremendous achievements we have had in on few days. Good news also stream in, representatives from Tembak hand us official documents with signatures of all the adults of the village giving us 65 hectares of virgin forests right next to the village for us to protect and be used for Animal Clinic and Conservation Center where we can work both with the locals.
Our Focus Groups
The next day, in the morning we had our group camera interviews, and all of us fitted in the four groups. Earth watchers, Education, Animal rescue and Reforestation group.
The Earthwatchers were charged with providing satellite images and information which could be used wherever they sensed deforestation going on and had already started putting together a case with Raphael Samsudin (Local Dayak) who had facts, rules and information that they could share and prove that the POC falsified information to get Oil Palm Concessions and the team is made of EW’s Fabrice (France), Farhani (Indonesia), Emily (Canada) and Chai Chin (Singapore).
The Animal Rescue made of EW’s Perry (Canada), Ben (Australia) Liza (USA) was charged with Animal Rescue and they had also slept with Jojo in the cages! Until she felt home in Sintang. They have been expecting more
animals to come in from all over Sintang and they would be based at the Kobus House until the Tempunak Rescue Center is established.
Education team was made of EW’s Mark, Kodi, Yvette, Anne-Sophie who are working on an exciting interactive teaching modules for the new Eco Warrior programme that all schools in Sintang District have agreed to participate and will be fully supported by the Ministry of Forestry.
Reforestation group is the last team made of Shadrack (Kenya), Steve (USA), Paul (Australia) and Tom (England). We are charged with reforestation and setting up an Eco Village using the locally available materials. It’s an all-male team and we already have started to put up an inventory of the local trees to plant by the help of whom EW Steve calls – a walking botanical encyclopedia! Botanist Arbainsyah from East Kalimantan. Tim will also help set up a nursery before we come back in February next year.
The Radio Show and Meeting with the Dayak Leaders
After the interviews, we were invited for a noon live broadcast by RRI (Radio Republik Indonesia) radio show to talk about our experiences, how we related what was happening in Borneo to our home countries. The Radio show was very interactive and we loved the opportunity to once again engage the public on deforestation, oil palm risks, advantages of sugar palms and our fight against illegal animal trade. It was very interactive and we were happy to put the message across.
When we came back we had our EW’s meeting and deliberated on issues, set priorities of actions once we get back to our home countries and the next day it was time to bid goodbye to the Film Production Crew. They had been perfect all along the way and had gone through so much in order to film us, they followed us almost everywhere and did their job quiet professionally. It was goodbye to Ibu Cathy, Jodi, Steve, Ben, Ezther, Nirala, Mark White, Tony and Richard. It was a pleasure having them. Also part of those leaving was Jean Kern, Fr. Jacques and Chef Andre.
The Army, Polics, Forest Reserves, Kids and Families Visit to the Kobus, Sintang
The next day is our last at the Kobus House, early in the morning the Kobus compound is filled with over 200 Police and Military kids with their parents, they have come to meet the Eco Warriors and learn more about DeforestAction. It was more of a surprise and we didn’t know they would be coming. We jump straight off our beds and go downstairs to welcome them. It was a good feeling to be flanked with kids who were very excited to meet us. Dr. Willie showed up and apologized that he had an abrupt meeting with Colonel Firly and the Army Chief who requested their kids to come and meet us. We were open for the meeting and never felt any pressure and one thing that we got to learn was that we were always getting along well with Indonesian kids wherever we went, they were our best friends and these police kids were no exception.
Dr. Willie introduced us to the kids and their families, he even brought Jojo with him and the kids were happy to see her, we explained the health risks of having Orangutans as pets, and why we need them out in the forest and in fact at the end of the meeting one lady whispered to Dr. Willie she knows one Orangutan that is kept as a pet and she will be willing to show us where it is located!
All the kids became members of Sintang Orangutan Conservation Club (SOCC) I think it was the highest membership registration ever in a setting. We took pictures with the families, did autographs to the kids and it were amazing, we really had a soft spot with the Indonesian kids.
Saying Goodbye to our English Buddies
After the meeting we had our lunch and then embarked on our packing, the last visitors were our English Buddies, they had come to say goodbye to us. It was a somber mood but we are glad that they showed up. We took pictures, joked around and sung. Am happy to have sung ‘We are the World’ by Michael Jackson while Merry Amelia (English Student) played the guitar. She is such a good guitarist and we promised when we get back next year we will sing again. One of the best memories was saying goodbye to these English Buddies.
We have our last drink and made our cheers on Fr. Jacques house, and then we get to the bus from Sintang to Pontianak together with Dr. Willie and Dudung where we will catch our flights to Jakarta.
Saying Goodbye at Jakarta Airport and Visiting Bogor
When we got to Jakarta, it was time to say goodbye to ourselves. I think we stole the show at the Airport but those hugs were with deep love and affection and only I, Ben, Steve, Emily and Paul were the last Eco Warriors and we decided to go to Cico, Bogor with Dr. Willie and Dudung. We went to Cico Resort, a magnificent set up by Dr. Willie. After walking around it was time for I and Ben to head to the Airport we said bye Dr. Willie, Dudung, Steve, Paul and Emily. It felt like a part of me being left away; I had developed this great connection with each of them and felt really down to leave them behind.
Hours after we were at the airport, and was time to say goodbye to Ben. I think he was a unique, focused and awesome friend and was happy to be good friends with him and only one bond that worked for us…….. Chicken!!!
I was at the Terminal now waiting to the start of a very long journey back home to Kenya with loads of memory of each experience playing afresh in my mind.
Not many things that people do over a very short period and look back and with courage they say yes ‘ We made it’ but this journey am proud to say that ‘We made it’ the obstacles that are before us are nothing compared to the potential of opportunities that lies ahead.
Sampa Jumpa Indonesia.